The Agora and its Denizens
The first tour of inspection completed, several facts become clear to the visitor. One is the extraordinarily large proportion of men among the moving multitudes. Except for the bread women and the flower girls, hardly one female is to be found among the sellers. Among the purchasers there is not a single reputable lady. No Athenian gentlewoman dreams of frequenting the Agora. Even a poor man's wife prefers to let her spouse do the family marketing. As for the "men folk," the average gentleman will go daily indeed to the Agora, but if he is really pretentious, it will be merely to gossip and to meet his friends; a trusted servant will attend to the regular purchasing. Only when an important dinner party is on hand will the master take pains to order for himself. If he does purchase in person, he will never carry anything himself. The slaves can attend to that; and only the slaveless (the poorest of all) must take away their modest rations of boiled lentils, peas, beans, onions, and garlic, usually in baskets, though yonder now is a soldier who is bearing off a measure of boiled peas inside his helmet.
Another thing is striking. The average poor Athenian seems to have no purse. Or rather he uses the purse provided by nature. At every booth one can see unkempt buyers solemnly taking their small change from their mouths. Happy the people that has not learned the twentieth century wisdom concerning microbes! For most Athenians seem marvelously healthy.
Still one other fact is brought home constantly. "Fixed prices" are absolutely unknown. The slightest transaction involves a war of bargaining. Wits are matched against wits, and only after a vast deal of wind do buyer and seller reach a fair compromise. All this makes retail trade in the Agora an excellent school for public affairs or litigation.
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